The Popovich Problem

Pop power.

Gregg Popovich got me. Yesterday, after he announced that he would rest Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker for the Spurs’ nationally televised game against the Spurs, I was incensed. And while I recognize the arguments about rest and the grind of NBA scheduling, for this particular coach to sit his players for this particular game seems like an obvious troll move, no matter how much “who me?” faux innocence he might project.

Here was my thinking, before yesterday’s game: For all the arguments to be made about the schedule or Popovich’s right to do with his team as he sees fit, this move is basically disrespectful to the NBA product, and there’s no reason to excuse that. I get it—Pop is a genius, this is masterful psychological warfare, whatever—but at the end of the day, why have an NBA if the great games aren’t played? What else is the league for, if not to produce entertaining basketball? This move, in that sense, is anti-basketball, and there’s no reason to give Pop a pass because of Great Man fetishization.

It seems to me that there is a precedent here. When changes need to be made to the game, or the structure of the league, we as fans have established a simple demand: settle it off the court. When an aggrieved gunner refuses to pass, or refuses to shoot, he is demonized. When labor disputes threaten the structural integrity of the league, the parties responsible are taken to task. Fans, in instances like this, mostly want beefs settled away from the game.

So the reasons to defend Pop, to my eye, were inconsistent with the way fans usually behave. For Popovich to threaten the on-court product means that he should be as widely castigated

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HoopSpeak Network

It’s none of your business, Mr. Stern

It says something about a debate when you can clearly see where the other side is coming from and still find no way to logically defend it. After all, TNT is business partner with the corporation that David Stern oversees and by resting his four top scorers, Gregg Popovich made a mockery of their involvement. Simply put, it’s Pop being Pop, not giving a frisbee about appeasing the crowd and doing the same thing that has helped this team remain desirable enough to be on national TV in the first place.

Think about that for a second. The Spurs have been one of the most forward-thinking team in league as far as resting their older players and managing minutes in games they play. In a league where the Mike Browns of the world run players into the ground, Pop has extended the window of effectiveness for guys like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili by blatantly punting games for their benefit. Because of that, they are both still key cogs for a team that TNT has or will feature regularly in each of the past two seasons when most thought the Spurs would be on their way out.

And it’s also hard to feel bad for the network. People were going to watch this game not only because it was a matchup of two of the league’s best teams, but because the league’s best player was involved. Lebron James could be playing a Division III team on TNT and casual fans were going to tune into watch this game. Sure some NBA junkies were upset at the loss of a potential Finals preview, but it’s impossible to criticize one of the methods that those same junkies would argue makes the Spurs a model franchise in the sport.

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HoopSpeak Live 79: Amin Elhassan

By @AnthonyBain.

Today’s guest is Amin Elhassan of ESPN.com.

To participate, simply click the “submit a question” button and leave us a question or comment during the show. If you’d like to join us on camera to ask a question, find a spot without too much background noise, click the “camera” button and then click “allow” and “remember” on the Flash settings box. To join the live chat, click the chat icon in the top-right corner.

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HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that Rajon Rondo won’t fight you.

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The Bobcats are still pretty bad, but that’s improvement!

If a month ago I offered to bet you that 13 games into the season, the Charlotte Bobcats would be 7-6, and alone in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, how much would you have been willing to wager?

$100? $1000? Your car? Your first-born child?

You would have lost that hypothetical bet, now hand over your hypothetical child.

Unsplicably, disfathomably, preposterageously, the Charlotte Bobcats matched their win total from all of last season less than 15% of the way through this one (and in case you were wondering, yes, this is so ridiculudicrous that it deserves four made-up words to describe it).

Once you move past the shock, or, in my case, the sheer, unadulterated terror that comes with the possibility that everything you know thought you knew about the NBA is a lie, you start to think about how the universe would allow something like this to happen.

Last season, the Bobcats finished comfortably in last place in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their offense was so much worse than the rest of the league, in fact, that the distance between them (95.2 points/100 possessions) and the 29th-ranked offense (Toronto at 100.8) was almost as large as the distance between 29th and eighth (Miami at 106.6). To geek out a bit more, their score was 2.89 standard deviations below the league average. I don’t have a full data set in front of me, but I’ve never seen a score more than three standard deviations above or below league average on offense or defense. In other words, anecdotally statistically speaking, the 2012 Bobcats may have been the worst offensive team in the history of basketball.

They did this by managing to not shoot the ball very often, and by shooting hilariously poorly when they did shoot. They were

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HoopSpeak Live 78: Charlie Widdoes

Today’s guest is Charlie Widdoes of ClipperBlog.

If you’d rather view the show directly on Spreecast, click here.

HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that Rasheed Wallace will visit your home bearing gifts.

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Chris Paul in the post

Having mastered just about everything there was to do on the perimeter, it looks like Chris Paul has decided to expand his game to the post. This year the Clippers are experimenting with a couple post looks for Paul that have been devastatingly effective.

The first is a scenario that will be familiar to anyone who has watched Carmelo Anthony over the last few years: the high-post iso. The Clippers often don’t even screen for Paul, instead they just let him claim a spot on the floor and enter the ball to him from the top of the key. From there, Paul goes to work:

You might notice that Paul is finding a lot of success doing something for which other players are often criticized: jabbing a bunch with his baseline foot then shooting. In his defense, he’s made 7-11  on these type of shots, what you see above is every one of his post-up jumpers from the season. Paul’s rocker step is nasty, and it’s no surprise that a player who is so accurate shooting on the move would be even better with his feet set. You can see Paul’s strength on these plays as he gains position; he’s like a 6-0 Zach Randolph.

He doesn’t shift the defense much now, but you can bet that once teams have seen this look enough, they will treat these Paul possessions more like Anthony’s, and start sending soft double teams his way. Obviously Paul is a dynamite passer, so expect him to find cutters when that happens.

The other interesting thing the Clippers are doing on these plays is setting a ball screen for Paul once he has post-up position.

This is a nightmare to defend because Paul is so accurate when he can set his feet

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Eric the Amazing

Here’s something you might not know: Eric Bledsoe is killing in pick-and-rolls this year. It’s actually a big part of his game. On a per minute basis, Bledsoe uses almost as many pick-and-roll possessions as James Harden and he scores better than the likes of Tony Parker, Mike Conley and Rajon Rondo (per Synergy). Being the NBA’s weirdest player doesn’t stop Bledsoe from excelling at some of the more typical tasks. His game is full of happy surprises.

But it’s true, there’s something about Eric Bledsoe that just doesn’t look right.

As an athlete, Bledsoe’s combination of lateral quickness, power, speed and improvisational grace sets him well apart even in the NBA. But his body seems oddly misshapen. It’s his arms, mostly. They don’t belong; as though Bledsoe stole them from a much taller man, or some parts were mixed up in the factory.

In fact Bledsoe’s wingspan exceeds his height by more than seven inches. That’s the same discrepancy as ol’ cartoon arms himself, Kevin Durant … except Durant is almost a foot taller.

This is worth mentioning because we tend judge the skill of a basketball player by the things he does with his hands — the fine motor skills of the NBA are controlled dribbling, accurate shooting, the deft pass. That Bledsoe’s hands are affixed to arms that appear generally unwieldy gives even his most delicate moves a sense of awkwardness. They contribute to the unfairly enduring perception that Bledsoe is more track athlete than basketball player, that he can’t, say, run the pick-and-roll.

Of course Bledsoe is physically imposing, and at just 6-0, he somehow manages to be a defensive wunderkind. As a general rule, it’s more difficult for point guards to have as constant and profound an impact on a team’s defense

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Scouts Corner 3: Byron Mullens is not Kobe Bryant

Mullens held back by shot selection

While new personnel (Head coach Mike Dunlap, Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, et al) has been been the primary reason the Bobcats are 4-4, the improvement of holdovers Kemba Walker and Byron Mullens has also played an important role.

With an offensive arsenal very similar to that of the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka — a solid jumper shooter with range to the 3-point line and strong right-hand driver in isolations — Mullens has been counted on at times to provide some shot creation for a team still desperately lacking consistent offensive options. In combination with poor discipline from Mullens, this need has led to a dizzying array of bad shots that kill any chance whatsoever of the talented 7-footer producing an efficient stat line. From off-balance 3’s to twisting fadeaways in isolations, many of Mullens shots would have a low probability of success even if attempted by Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony, two players much more fluid and skilled than the 275 pound center.

If the Bobcats are going to ask Mullens to routinely create offense, they must help prepare him for such a role. By giving him a true game plan in isolations such as where to attack (the middle of the floor) with a few simplified attacking moves (shot-fakes into one or two dribble jump hooks with baseline spin counters) the team could not only eliminate the wild shots currently plaguing Mullens, but help the talented power forward take the next step in his career.

Eric Bledsoe will be a max player

Despite averaging only 18.2 minutes per game behind Chris Paul, it’s becoming increasingly clear that “mini-Lebron” is well on his way to becoming an elite talent. Agains the Bulls on Saturday night, Bledsoe not only efficiently

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Four thoughts from Spurs vs. Knicks

The Chandler Effect

If you were wondering why the Mavericks struggled offensively last season, look no further than how the Spurs were forced to defend pick-and-rolls involving Tyson Chandler last night. Gregg Popovich was so concerned with Chandler’s ability to dive to the rim for a lob that he asked his bigs to zone up (sag back) and stick tightly to the rolling Chandler while another guard — normally the one assigned to Kidd — filled the driving lane of the ball handler.

Just like in Dallas, shooters and drivers in New York are finding more space simply because big men normally tasked with containing penetration are too concerned with tracking back on Chandler. As we saw last night, this has a dynamic effect on team offense.

Felton vs Spurs Pick-and-Roll Coverage

The Knicks incendiary shooting from behind the arc stole the headlines, but make no mistake about it, Raymond Felton absolutely destroyed the Spurs in the halfcourt last night. It was difficult to ascertain what the Spurs plan was with Felton as Tony Parker seemed to alternate between going under screens and trying to force Felton away from them (And let’s face it, Pop isn’t going to fill anyone in on the San Antonio’s intent).

Neither tactic solved the Spurs problems. If Parker went under, Felton would use his quickness to try to beat Parker’s angle of recovery and then his power to muscle through Parker in the paint. If Parker was trying to force him away from the screen, his poor technique in combination with Felton’s quickness gave Felton the opportunity to blow over the top of the screen and attack the middle of the floor. It all added up to an impressive stat line for the Knicks point guard.

SplitSanity

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HoopSpeak Live 77: The Disciples of Clyde

By @AnthonyBain

Today’s guests are Dan Filowitz and Ken Drews of The Disicples of Clyde NBA Podcast.

If you’d rather view the show directly on Spreecast, click here.

HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that Rasheed Wallace will visit your home bearing gifts.

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